Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Disappointed with Obama

Prof. James Ceaser is correct to see the Barack Obama presidency as a spiritual movement.

From the onset of the Obama administration I have argued on this blog that the American people elected Barack Obama in order to atone for sins.

Faced in 2008 with a financial crisis they did not understand, Americans bought a theory that they could grasp, one that had been peddled relentlessly in the media and the schools. They decided that when the credit markets had frozen and the financial system was about to implode it meant that God was punishing America for its sins. Those sins were racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and carbon emissions.

So, Americans went looking for a Savior. They found on in Barack Obama. It was easier to atone for their sins by electing Obama than actually working their way out of the crisis.

Ceaser renders vividly the idea that the Obama presidency was a spiritual revival:

In the promiscuous blending of politics and culture that characterizes our age, the launch of the Obama campaign in 2007 marked the beginning of a politico-spiritual movement that promised a new beginning and a transformation of the nation. It was to be the “moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal .  .  . [when we] restored our image as the last, best hope on Earth. Faith in the leader knew no bounds. Obamaism spilled out from the college campuses and tony enclaves of Manhattan and San Francisco into the mass public to become first an American and then a worldwide phenomenon. The legion of believers included not only the youth in their T-shirts emblazoned with the silk-screen Obama image, but also many of the nation’s most experienced political observers. 

By 2013, Ceaser explains, the bloom was not only off of the Obamarose, but people began to grasp that the oft-trumpeted national revival wasn’t going to happen. They began to see that they had elected a transformative incompetent who was going to transform the nation for the worse.

In Ceaser’s words:

No date was fixed for the fulfillment of all the hopes and promises—extensions were continually asked for under the excuse that “change would never be easy”—but enough time had transpired by the end of 2013 for people to sense that the deadline had come and gone. 

Taking a page from social psychologist Leon Festinger, Ceaser suggests that people have three ways to deal with the trauma of disappointment.

They can accept that they were duped, deny that their god has failed or deflect the blame.

Obviously, the path to a real recovery begins with an acceptance that one was duped, that one had been the victim of a hoax. This entails feeling ashamed, but it allows one to reconcile with reality, get one’s feet on the ground, gain some traction and move forward.

Ceaser describes accepters:

Accepters are those who conclude that they have succumbed to an error or perhaps been victims of a hoax. In the psychologists’ jargon, they admit to “disconfirmation.” Such recognition may come with powerful feelings of pain—a sense of emptiness, the despair of lost hope, or the embarrassment of having been “had” by a confidence man. 

The most prominent accepter is former White House press secretary Robert Gibbs. According to Ceaser:

While he still supports Obama’s political program, Gibbs has recently appeared on television admitting that “2013 was a lost year for the president,” and that the people doubt that Obama’s team is “remotely capable of solving those problems.” He no longer frequents the White House.

On an encouraging note Ceasar suggests that many citizens have finally figured out that their faith and hope was misplaced, and that Obama is not going to deliver on his grandiose promises. Moreover, they have discovered that their president lies all the time.

In Ceaser’s words:

On the level of the mass public, poll data show a stunning loss of confidence in the leader, as more and more erstwhile followers have come to accept that “the change” was pure fiction. While there are signs of a mild and pervasive depression—nearly two-thirds of the public think the nation is on the wrong track—many seem to be adjusting to life after Obamaism.

And then there are the deniers. They continue to believe in their Messiah and refuse to accept that they have been duped. They will find something positive to say about him, no matter what.

Ceaser describes them well:

… some followers have invested so much in their adherence that they cannot eliminate the dissonance by adjusting to reality. They instead “effectively blind themselves to the facts” and band together, fortifying their beliefs by the support of others who agree. “If more and more people can be persuaded that the system of belief is correct, then clearly it must, after all, be correct.” In brief, to quote another expert, they cling to religion.

One suspects that deniers are culture warriors more than economic of political reformers. They seem unworried about the continuing bad economy. They do not seem concerned that America’s role in the world has been diminishing. They are happy that America exited Iraq and will soon be exiting Afghanistan. Since they hate military culture, they are happy to see it diminished.

Deniers want Americans to suffer. They want Americans to be punished for their sins. They do not care about the stock market or the labor market or the Arab Spring.

Moreover, their arena is hearts and minds, not the marketplace or the battlefield. They are fighting racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and carbon emissions. If the nation is moving toward greater tolerance they are happy. This is what they voted for and they feel good about their votes.

Some of the deniers still to rationalize Obama’s ineptitude. Others simply do not care. They voted for a cultural revolution and they believe that they are watching it unfold.

This brings us to the largest group, the deflectors, those who see that the Obama administration is failing, but who are happy to shift the blame to other people… like the Republican Congress, Rush Limbaugh and Fox News. Deflectors are in closer touch with reality but refuse to hold Obama to account.

Ceaser describes them:

Deflectors admit that the anticipated outcome did not actually occur, which is their concession to reality. But they go on to say that the failure was not the result of a falsehood or a hoax. The prophecy would have been fulfilled but for the existence of a countervailing force that canceled it out. The promise in a sense was kept, only its effects were nullified. Where deflection is ably executed, it can serve to strengthen belief among the faithful, who now conceive of themselves as saints in an implacable struggle with the sinners.

At times, President Obama seems to be leading the charge toward shifting the blame. At other times, he sounds like he is in denial.

Ceaser describes his strategy:

For the most part, however, Obama follows the predicted model of resolving dissonance by being a denier and deflector. He is still asking followers to have patience, going to the extreme of fighting Providence with executive orders… that extend crucial deadlines. Obama appears at his most natural and sincere in the role of deflector-in-chief. All the great things, he suggests, would have happened but for sinister forces working against the change. 

By now, many of the accepters and deflectors have shifted their allegiance. They are preparing to open a new front in the culture war, the better to promote American spiritual renewal.

Just as the election of Obama proved that America has overcome its racist past, so now America will have the chance to show how it has overcome sexism by electing Hillary in 2016.

If the tactic worked once, there is no reason why it will not work again.


Kath said...

The progressives need more time to destroy our country. Electing Hillary will give them several years to continue the process. The hard left which has so much misogynistic hate for Sarah Palin will accuse Conservatives of sexism for resisting Hillary.

Of course none of this is written in stone. The left has unleashed forces that they might not be able to control. None of us know where this is all going.

David Foster said...

I agree that the Obama enthusiasm, along with "progressivism" generally, was and is largely a "spiritual" movement, but I think relatively few of the people involved feel that they have *personally* committed any sins for which they need to atone. Quite the contrary, their belief system is a way of arrogating themselves, at least in their own minds, above the American populace in general, who they do indeed regard as sinners. C S Lewis explained the psychology of all this brilliantly in a 1940 essay on Dangers of National Repentance. I excerpted it here:

Stuart Schneiderman said...

Thank you, David, for the important qualification.

Anonymous said...

I fear that the deniers and deflectors greatly outnumber the self-admitted dupes. We have to hope that as the reality of Obamacare hits home more people will open their eyes. Even so, many of them will fall under the next craze - "America must atone for its sexist past by electing the most qualified candidate in the history of the republic" - and we all know who that "legend in her own mind" is.

Sam L. said...

That's "atone for sins they were told they'd committed, or guilty of being related to someone who had so sinned", Stuart. Dumb bunnies bought it, too.

Anonymous said...

re: "They decided that when the credit markets had frozen and the financial system was about to implode it meant that God was punishing America for its sins. Those sins were racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia and carbon emissions."

This is really inexplicable to me. And James Ceaser's article says nothing of the sort.

I can agree the Left's attempting to look back at "progressive victories" of the past, and rally around the diminishing returns of fighting the good fight against capitalistic greed, and that its a false narrative, but punishment?

If there's disappointment it is to realize anyone from any party, put into a position of power as president of the united states has to stop playing partisan politics and represent the needs of the whole.

So the Left thinks they've been largely abandoned, or given a few crumbs, while the Right sees everything Obama does in a reactive nightmare, like Clinton, he co-opts every good idea from the Right and then confused why they suddenly deny they ever wanted that, and race further from the center to avoid any sign of cooperation.

I'm more interested in what's really happening, and it seems pretty simple - we've overpromised the future, and expectations for endless growth and prosperity in global competition against those who can live on much less money than us, are maneuvering to have what we have, and so "feel good politics" and "reality of inequality" make for a dishonest combination no matter what political slant you follow.

I liked the presidential campaign of Ralph Nader and Winona LaDuke, and the native American ideal "In every deliberation, we must consider the impact on the seventh generation." but once you enter a position of power, a position of denying present false prosperity on theoretical concerns of people not yet born, it would seem an impossible ideal, at least outside of your tribal identities.

The reality of "global capitalism" is an ever further concentration of wealth and power until the bottom rebels, and then everyone has to decide what side they're on, and in the short run all opposition to global capitalism makes you poorer. And the U.S. might be the last to see this because of our ability to borrow infinite amounts of money to keep global trade following.

Ares Olympus said...

I recall the supposed conversation with Obama and Harry Belafonte, Obama whining "Cut me some slack" and Belefonte's retort "What makes you think we haven't?";wap2

So whatever else you can get from that story is that the candidate Obama can promise the moon, but once he was elected and had to deal with political limitations, he feels defensive and wants compassion for his problems.

Meanwhile today MoveOn has a petition for $15/hour minimum wage, not because they think it has any chance for political reality, or that it would be good for the economy, but that it defines the "$2000 grill" that makes us think "$10/hour" must be the "middle ground" argument, rather than the pit-in-the-sky.

So that's the nature of political posturing I guess, and the problems only occur when people brainwash themselves to believe "pie-in-the-sky" is a real proposal. I mean this happens on the left and the right, and helps explain why there's no honest place in politics - its spin all the way down, and smart people know that, and fools become slaves to their pet party when they don't.